For Limmar Ponyets was one of the few people who happened to know thatMaster Trader Eskel Gorov was not a trader at all; but that entirelydifferent thing, an agent of the Foundation!Two weeks gone! Two weeks wasted.
One week to reach Askone, at the extreme borders of which the vigilantwarships speared out to meet him in converging numbers. Whatever theirdetection system was, it worked ?and well.
They sidled him in slowly, without a signal, maintaining their colddistance, and pointing him harshly towards the central sun of Askone.
Ponyets could have handled them at a pinch. Those ships were holdovers fromthe dead-and-gone Galactic Empire ? but they were sports cruisers, notwarships; and without nuclear weapons, they were so many picturesque andimpotent ellipsoids. But Eskel Gorov was a prisoner in their hands, andGorov was not a hostage to lose. The Askonians must know that.
And then another week ?a week to wind a weary way through the clouds ofminor officials that formed the buffer between the Grand Master and theouter world. Each little sub-secretary required soothing and conciliation .
Each required careful and nauseating milking for the flourishing signaturethat was the pathway to the next official one higher up.
For the first time, Ponyets found his trader's identification papersuseless.
I Now, at last, the Grand Master was on the other side of the Guard-flankedgilded door ?and two weeks had gone.
Gorov was still a prisoner and Ponyets' cargo rotted useless in the holdsof his ship.
The Grand Master was a small man; a small man with a balding head and verywrinkled face, whose body seemed weighed down to motionlessness by thehuge, glossy fur collar about his neck.
His fingers moved on either side, and the line of armed men , along which Ponyets strode to the foot of the Chair ofState.
"Don't speak," snapped the Grand Master, and Ponyets' opening lips closedtightly.
"That's right," the Askonian ruler relaxed visibly, "I can't endure uselesschatter. You cannot threaten and I won't abide flattery. Nor is there roomfor injured complaints. I have lost count of the times you wanderers havebeen warned that your devil's machines are not wanted anywhere in Askone.""Sir," said Ponyets, quietly, "there is no attempt to justify the trader inquestion. It is not the policy of traders to intrude where they are notwanted. But the Galaxy is great, and it has happened before that a boundaryhas been trespassed unwittingly. It was a deplorable mistake.""Deplorable, certainly," squeaked the Grand Master. "But mistake? Yourpeople on Glyptal IV have been bombarding me with pleas for negotiationsince two hours after the sacrilegious wretch was seized. I have beenwarned by them of your own coming many times over. It seems awell-organized rescue campaign .